Base fire officials share tips on making holiday décor, fireplaces safe during holiday season Published Dec. 21, 2006 By Holly L. Birchfield 78 ABW/PA ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- With Christmas a little over a week away, base fire officials are reminding people to keep fire prevention as close to mind as the holiday spirit is to their hearts. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, holiday fires injure more than 2,000 people and cause more than $930 million in property damage each year. Tom Kennedy, assistant fire chief at the Base Fire Department at Robins, said taking a commonsense approach to decking the halls and warming homes can make the holiday safer. "I've always said if you use common sense, fire safety will go a long way, and that's definitely true during the holidays," he said. From decorating the tree to making a home warm and toasty, Mr. Kennedy said fire prevention should touch all aspects of the holiday celebration. The assistant fire chief said Christmas trees should be placed no closer than 10 feet from any fireplace or other heating source. Whether the scent of a natural tree or the convenience of an artificial tree suits a person, there are safety factors to consider. "If it's a natural Christmas tree, when you look for one, make sure there's some sticky resin, especially at the base," he said. "You're going to cut about a half inch from the bottom and you must keep it in water to maintain its freshness." The tree's needles should remain resilient and should not become brittle and break off. Brittle tree needles can be a target for a house fire. Master Sgt. Mark Wynn, NCO in charge of fire prevention at the Base Fire Department, said trees should keep their natural color. "Notice the color of your tree," he said. "It should be vibrant and fresh green. When it starts turning brown, you start getting that Charlie Brown effect; it's really ignitable at that point." Mr. Kennedy said when choosing artificial Christmas trees, people should ensure the trees are labeled as "flame retardant." Sergeant Wynn said exercising fire prevention is especially important during the holidays. "I think the number one thing is to inspect all of your stuff before you put it up," he said. Sergeant Wynn said people should turn Christmas lights off if they're not going to be at home and before going to bed. "I think the big tip is to make sure you unplug it when you're not around," he said. "That's mainly due to small kids and animals you may have around your house. They can bring a tree down. And, normally when you start tugging on an electrical wire, what's going to happen? You're going to have a spark or a short, if you're not there to prevent this situation." In houses with small children or pets, Sergeant Wynn suggests people secure a small rope or tie to the base of the tree to help prevent it from toppling over in the event of an accident. Although candles' warm glow and inviting aroma may make them a tempting option for tree décor, Mr. Kennedy said Christmas trees and candles should never mix. David Chaplin, a fire inspector at the Base Fire Department, said while the use of candles should be minimal, he recommends people use candles contained in the manufacturers' original glass container as with most popular brand name candles. As a precaution, Sergeant Wynn said people should always keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of a fire. With the temperatures gradually dropping, many people are using their fireplaces. Mr. Kennedy said fireplaces should be inspected and cleaned by a professional before being lit. Gas connections should be secured and flues kept clear for gas and wood-burning heat sources, Mr. Kennedy advised. Fire safety tips apply to the outdoors as well. "Make sure you buy actual outdoor-use Christmas lights," Mr. Kennedy said. "Some lights are made for outdoor and indoor use. But it's best to use the ones made strictly for use outside." While there are no set restrictions on Christmas trees and décor in base housing, Mr. Kennedy said people should use common sense to keep the risk of fire down.WHAT TO KNOW For more information on holiday fire safety, contact the Base Fire Department at 926-2145.